Ilam – Queen of Hills
Situated around 600 kilometers from Kathmandu in the east of Nepal, the hilly district of Ilam, sometimes referred to as “Queen of Hills”, is renowned for its awe-inspiring scenery and for the high quality of the tea grown there, which is exported to many destinations in the world. As home to the Red Panda, Ilam attracts researchers who are interested in the conservation of this beautiful endangered animal as well as the many rare birds in the area. With its Devi temples, Ilam also has great religious significance with many pilgrims visiting the area each year.
Ilam is a hilly district with elevations ranging from around 140 meters at Banjho to a height of 3636 meters at Sandakpur. The readily available water from the four rivers in the region, Mai Khola, Puwa Khola, Jog Mai and Mah Mai, makes it perfectly suited to the growing of tea and this is what the area is most well known for. Due to the high altitude, along with favorable soil and weather conditions, and traditional processing techniques, Ilam Tea is believed to be high in health-enhancing anti-oxidants and polyphenols, with the flavor being compared to that of the popular Darjeeling tea. The economy in the area is further boosted by the cash crops of cardamom, red round chili, ginger, potatoes and broom grass.
As an area rich in its own unique blend of cultures, the people in Ilam live in harmony and welcome visitors. A wide range of ethnic groups call Ilam home, including Lepchas – tribes which are viewed as proper natives of Ilam – Rais, Limbus, Gurungs and Sherpas. As in the rest of Nepal, the majority of religious celebrations in the region of Ilam are Hindu festivals. One of the main attractions of Ilam is the Mai Pokhari Lake which is believed to be the dwelling place of goddesses. Popular tourist and trekking destinations in Ilam district include Sandakpur, Shiddithumka, Jauwari, Tumling and Kalapokhari, while the famed Mane Bhanjyang mountain pass connects Ilam with the Darjeeling district of West Bengal in India.
Ilam was at one time subject to unrest due to activities of Maoist rebels, but with the recent changes in the political scene of Nepal and a subsequent restoration of peace in the area, the natural wonders of Ilam and the warm hospitality of its people is being enjoyed by an increasing number of tourists, both domestic and international.